Equilibrium of Terror: Part 1 | Excerpt

PROLOGUE

ESV Sun Tzu, En-route to Pluto, Sol system

            “You’ve got to be kidding me,” Commander Todd said, staring into his holographic computer screen.

The bridge crew of the UNE flagship, ESV Sun Tzu diligently performed their duties as the ship dropped out of sub light speed toward the location of a faint distress call. UNE Admiral Linda Stone stood with her hands behind her back as she stepped toward Todd. His eyes and face were in complete shock upon witnessing what remained of a deep space defense platform. He spun in his chair to face the tall black woman and asked. “This encounter makes it the what?”

“Eighth, the eighth time this month,” Linda said. “Any signs of survivors?”

“None, but I’m detecting debris from what appears to be a Hashmedai scout ship.”

At least they put up a good fight before getting overwhelmed. “Alert the fleet, and send a message to command.” Linda gave the order then stood next to the bridge’s central hologram. A three-dimensional map of the solar system was being projected emitting soft white and blue light as an eighth red colored ‘x’ appeared on it. She placed her hands on the console generating the hologram, gazing at it for several seconds then spoke. “The Hashmedai Empire is back, we all knew this day would come.”

CHAPTER 1

Silver Raven, Interstellar Space

A proximity alarm combined with a call to battle stations alarm shrieked and echoed throughout every section of the Silver Raven. Nobody could hear it, at least not right away as the crew aboard was resting quietly in their cryostasis pods, Jake “Jazz” Johnson being one of them. The Silver Raven’s automatic revival systems kicked in, reviving Jazz from his pod. His eyes slowly opened as the glass tubular pod swung open. All he could see from the mist that escaped in front of his eyes, was flashing red lights.

“Good morning.” He grunted as he sluggishly left the pod, like a new born hawk cracking out from its egg. If it wasn’t for the weightless environment, he would have slammed into the cold hard floor. It took about five or six seconds for his head and vision to correct itself before he positioned his body to face the exit. A tug on a nearby handle bar helped propel his body out as he made his way to the cockpit on the upper deck.

He sighed after floating past the lounge into the cockpit and white mist exited his mouth. Deep space was the only thing that could be seen through the forward windshield other than the tiny red dwarf star in the distance struggling to emit light. He sat in the pilot’s chair as his dark hands reached outwards to enter a string of commands into the computer terminal in front of him.

“Can you like, shut that noise off?” Destiny said as she floated into the cockpit to join him. Like Jazz, there was a hint of fatigue in her voice and movement, as she sat in the chair next to him.

“That noise means we’re ‘bout to get fisted,” Jazz said. “How good is your Hashmedai?”

“Nowhere near the level of yours,” she said as she slowly brushed her floating ginger hair backwards and away from her face.

“Word, tell me what those screens are saying while I figure out how to fly this boat.” He continued to push buttons not knowing what half of them did. She did something similar at her post. “Hold up, why are you awake from cryo?”

“This is your ship, you tell me!”

“Only myself and Veloshira are supposed to be awakened during an emergency like this,” he said. “Computers must have taken a shit.”

“I may or may not have taken Vel’s pod,” Destiny said. She activated a holo screen displaying updated sensor data. Jazz was certain she loaded the screen by accident. “Okay red dots are bad, right?”

His head peered at the newly displayed tactical information. A central blue dot representing the Silver Raven remained stationary while a red dot approached from the side, dropping out of sub light speeds. He leaned in closer to read the text hovering above the holographic red dot. “Oh, fuck me. Radiance patrol ship.”

“We’re doomed,” Destiny said. “Want me to revive Vel?”

“Yeah,” Jazz said, then reconsidered seconds later. “Scratch that, they might just wanna talk.”

“You sure?”

“About them talking? Fuck no, they might ice us when they get into weapons range.”

“I meant Vel.”

“Oh uh, we’ll leave her for now, if they want to talk they’ll probably freak out if they see a Hashmedai woman in the cockpit with us.”

“I see where you’re going,” she said. “We humans look like Linl.”

“They’ll never know the difference.”

“Except for that fact that we don’t speak their language.”

“I can speak Rabuabin, close enough!”

An automated beep played from their computer terminal, adding to the noise of multiple alarms blaring. Jazz shut down the alarms and red flashing lights. If the Radiance ship wanted to talk, they’d need to project a ‘we’re cool’ vibe, alarms tended not to project that kind of image.

“What does that mean?” Destiny asked.

The beep kept repeating. With the alarms now silent Jazz could make out what the noise meant. “It’s an incoming transmission. Put on ya best Linl face.”

Jazz’s finger tapped a flashing button triggering the appearance of a large projection. Within the hologram he saw the bridge of a Radiance cruiser. A Javnis wearing a grey jumpsuit sat in the captain’s chair speaking in the Radiance language. “Abyssal Steadfast tarn blan vessel tarn seckilack sel orig speaking to?”

Jazz’s knowledge of the Rabuabin language only allowed him to understand a fraction of what the captain had said. “We are just a merchant ship looking to, uh trade and sell rare supplies,” Jazz said in Rabuabin.

Vinna dogo coral-loth Rabuabin ligon?” the Javnis captain asked. Once again Jazz couldn’t make out much of it.

“So, as you can see we aren’t a threat?”

Vinna dogo coral-loth Rabuabin ligon?” the Javnis captain asked yet again, this time with irritation in his voice.

Must be Monday morning for these folks, Jazz thought.

The captain then shouted to one of his bridge crew members. A Rabuabin man stepped forward in the projection shortly afterwards with a perplexed look on his face and his tail still. “This is Commander Za Teyanei of the Abyssal Steadfast,” the Rabuabin said in their language. “My captain wishes to know your destination.”

“Word,” Jazz said quietly with a grin.

“And why you are speaking Rabuabin?”

“Uh, I’m from Talsyk,” said Jazz. “My wife is Rabuabin and is a controlling woman.”

Not a complete lie, Kalis, a Rabuabin, only spoke in their native language. Part of the reason Jazz took the time to learn it, after learning Hashmedai, was so that he could communicate with her better. That and he lived in the Rabuabin district of Port Shala.

“Say no more, I understand,” Teyanei said. “Your ship did not register in any of our databanks.”

“Salvaged from Morutrin, it was cheap and it worked,” Jazz said, a lie, but it was a necessary one. The truth would have gotten them shot down.

Teyanei’s projection spoke to the Javnis captain and after a brief exchange returned to Jazz. “Captain says you’re safe to proceed, heading to Rasi I presume?”

Jazz nodded and the projection vanished. The screen in front of Destiny showed the red dot move away from them.

“So, since we’re breathing I’m going to assume we’re good?” asked Destiny.

“I’m going to need a big shovel,” said Jazz. “To clean up the amount of bullshit I had to create just to get us out of that.” He lowered his head to examine the controls and a small holographic map of the star system they had entered. The Silver Raven’s trajectory placed them on a direct course toward a frozen inner planet. “So. Rasi. I’m going to assume it’s this world here.”

“I think we’re going to need—”

Destiny’s voice was cut off as Veloshira decloaked and wrapped one of her Hashmedai hands across Destiny’s forehead while the other held her dagger against her neck. Jazz, in a panic, spun his weightless body toward the new conflict.

“Veloshira!” he shouted in the Hashmedai language.

“You’re in my chair, Jazz, and she’s in yours,” Veloshira said in her native tongue. “What’s the meaning of this?”

“We were both awakened from cryo, there was an emergency.”

“Then why wasn’t I revived?”

“Because she took your pod by accident.”

There was hesitation on Veloshira’s part before she released Destiny from her grip and hissed through her fangs at her. Both Destiny and Jazz floated away from the chairs they sat on as Veloshira sat at her usual seat to pilot the Silver Raven.

“Your partner always like this?” Destiny propelled herself back toward the cockpit exit.

“Work related stress,” Jazz said to Destiny.

“What’s our status?” Veloshira asked Jazz while she regained control of the ship.

“Radiance patrol stopped us seconds ago,” he said in her language.

“Radiance?” Veloshira’s palm hit her face. “We’ve flown into a Radiance Union star system.”

“They think we’re a Linl merchant ship from Morutrin.”

“Do you have any idea what you have done?”

“Yeah, may have found where they took Hannah,” Jazz said. “If we find Hannah we can find the ship that made the wormhole that got us out here in the first place, and return to the empire.”

“Speaking of which,” Veloshira said as she analyzed the Silver Raven’s sensor logs. “According to these logs the wormhole we traveled through is gone.”

“Perfect,” Jazz said as the darkened icy planet slowly started to come into view from the forward windshield. “So, we’re stuck in this region of space if we fail.”

A little over an hour had passed since the encounter with Radiance patrol. During that hour Jazz left Veloshira alone in the cockpit piloting the ship toward their new destination. Both Destiny and Jazz spent the time floating about in the lounge, the only section of the ship Veloshira was okay with the temperatures being turned up slightly for the humans aboard. Well humans and a half human called Eupiar. Which reminded Jazz, both Chloe and Eupiar were still sleeping away in cryostasis.

***

            Chloe’s eyes opened as the glass tube to her cryo pod lifted open. Jazz’s smug grin was the first thing she saw after floating away from it. Eupiar the half-human, half-Hashmedai girl was revived around the same time.

“Johnson,” Chloe mumbled to Jazz as she looked to see who else was still in cryo. Nobody. Out of the ten tubes in the chamber only four of them including the two Chloe and Eupiar floated away from were open.

“So, there’s been a change of plans—”

“Stop.” Chloe cut into Jazz’s statement, there was one other person still in stasis, someone she didn’t recognize from when all four them came down here originally. “Who the fuck is that?” Her finger pointed toward a beaten and battered looking Aryile.

Jazz’s gaze followed where she pointed and he winced.

“Shit, forgot about his ass,” he said. “Long story short, this fool tried to pick a fight with me. He was Hashmedai when we fought, turned into an Aryile after I killed his ass. Tossed him in there hoping to find some answers. Answers that never came.”

“Turned into? Like he shapeshifted?” Chloe asked Jazz.

“I dunno, I wasn’t looking at the time. All I know is he was Hashmedai at the start then Aryile later.”

His story, if it was true, sounded somewhat familiar to Chloe. Part of her hoped it was true as it would provide a perfect explanation as to why there was a woman who looked, dressed, and talked exactly like her aboard the ESV John F. Kennedy.

“Oh my god,” she said, staring at the Aryile preserved in the glass tubing.

“What’s up? You know something?”

Tell him the truth? Perhaps later, she still lacked proof about her theory. And to be honest, the events that transpired on that ship was something she’d rather not think about now. She’d abandoned her sister and boyfriend shortly after they got shot to seek revenge. And now? She was stuck out there, somewhere in the galaxy, having to rely on the aid of people she once considered to be enemies.

“It’s nothing,” she said and kicked her feet off the walls to start her zero-g swim out of the cryo chamber and toward the upper deck.

There was warm air blowing directly into the lounge area outside of the Silver Raven’s cockpit, a welcome feeling as Chloe only wore a tank top and pants, though she considered going back to put on the flight jumpsuit she was wearing when she was rescued by Jazz and his rag tag friends.

Jazz started distributing grey colored packages to Destiny and Eupiar, food and water rations by the looks of it. Chloe raised her eyebrow at Jazz when he saw that his hand extended a package toward her as well. Chloe’s pride told her to not accept it, the groans in her belly said to take the damn thing and shut up. Her hands tore open the package and out floated dehydrated lamb and bread, not exactly the meal she was expecting, given this was a Hashmedai ship.

“You’re welcome,” Destiny said to Chloe. “We swiped those from our Iranian safe house before coming aboard.”

Chloe kept her mouth shut in attempt to hold onto the pride she felt was slipping away. These guys rescued her, kept her aboard for their ride and now were feeding her like she was part of the team. No fucking way they’re getting a ‘thank you’ out of me, not after what they’ve done!

“I don’t want to experience that again,” Eupiar said after consuming half of her floating meal. “Cryostasis felt a lot worse than I thought it would be.”

“Try being in cryo for eight years,” Chloe said, taking a bite of the lamb. Cold, dry, and bland as hell, but it killed her hunger.

“So, since we’re all awake, I’m assuming we’re near our destination?” Eupiar asked.

“I’m still not sure where ‘here’ is exactly other than the fact it’s Radiance territory,” Jazz said.

“Give me a star map,” Eupiar said. “I’ll try to figure it out.”

Jazz moved his hand outwards, welcoming Eupiar into the cockpit. She winced, distorting her teenaged face, then floated in while still chewing her meal.

“Careful, she bites,” Destiny said, snickering as Eupiar sat next to Veloshira.

“And you shoot without thinking,” Chloe said to Destiny, who turned to face Chloe with an angry glare.

“Go fuck yourself,” Destiny said.

“You wanna go again?” Chloe shouted.

Destiny pulled her fists up ready for another brawl just as Chloe was about to do the same. Jazz launched his body between them, both of his strong arms extended outwards in a break it up manner.

“Bitch, I got no problem fucking shooting you in the head again,” Destiny shouted at Chloe.

“Just like how you shot your fucking husband?”

“Oh, my fucking god,” Jazz said as Destiny tried her best to push him aside to get to Chloe. “Star map!” Jazz shouted to Eupiar.

In the cockpit Eupiar held onto a small holographic window then tossed it toward Jazz and the others in the lounge. It stopped in between them as it grew larger in size showing a map of the star system they were in as well as the closest systems to it, one of them being Sol. It was enough data to catch Chloe’s attention as her green eyes peered at it longer. She could tell Jazz started to relax more upon seeing Chloe became less interested in fighting with Destiny and more interested in the holographic data. In reality, Chloe wanted nothing more than to put Destiny out the air lock, especially after the hand gun gesture Destiny made toward Chloe’s head as she floated away from the lounge.

“I take it you know something?” Jazz asked Chloe. She nodded. “Do your thing then Chloe.”

The region of space around Earth was unexplored as far as the Hashmedai Empire and Radiance Union were concerned. Of the closest fifteen stars to Earth, only three of those systems were claimed. Epsilon Eridani was controlled by the empire, Alpha Centauri (and Proxima Centauri) was claimed by the union, then there was Barnard’s Star, one of the newest worlds from what Chloe had learned in her years living at Alpha Centauri, it was also controlled by the union.

Chloe said. “This is the Barnard’s Star system according to what I’m looking at.”

The revelation made her smile, she may be surrounded by people she didn’t like aboard this ship. But the ship itself was surrounded by people she was allied with and who wouldn’t hesitate to blow them out of existence if they learned who they really were. Though she would prefer that they do that when she was off and away from the Silver Raven.

“We’re gonna land on this planet here,” Jazz said, pointing to one of the planets on the map. “Destiny and I will travel around posing as Linl merchants, looking for clues as to where Hannah might be, any intel you could provide would be helpful.”

Chloe snorted. “You do that, I’ll be getting off when you land,” she said as Jazz crossed his arms. “A Hashmedai assassin, her human slave, a terrorist, and her pet hacker.”

“Now that’s just cold.”

“You have any idea what Radiance will do to all of you if they find out who you really are? I’m EDF, part of the UNE, allies of Radiance. I don’t need to pretend I’m anyone. I’ll contact Radiance command and ask them for assistance, you guys stay put and out of the city.”

“I think it’s cute she thinks she’s in command,” Destiny shouted from the rear section of the ship, clearly listening in on their conversation.

“Fine, do what you want let’s see what charges they bring up against you and your HLF activities,” said Chloe to Destiny as she floated into the cockpit. She was surprised how cold things got the instant she crossed the threshold into it. “The bombings, kidnappings, beheadings. Radiance knows about that stuff, it wasn’t limited to the ones stationed on Earth.”

Jazz followed her shouting. “Look, if you wanna play the part of the noble soldier doing the right thing, go right ahead, ain’t none of us gonna give a shit, you’re the one that owes us for pulling your ass out of that escape pod.” He took a seat in his chair up front next to Veloshira. “Just don’t go running your mouth off about us, and don’t come crying to us if the Celestial Order has infiltrated your Radiance friends here.”

“I doubt they’ll be here,” Chloe said. “This is a brand-new Radiance colony, small population, small number of ships in the system, why would the order come out here?”

Wishful thinking. The order took the time to come to Earth before humans had starships to travel through space. Nonetheless, she couldn’t find any justification for the order to set up shop here, being the ass end of the Radiance Union.

“You guys done bickering?” Eupiar asked as she typed away on the holographic keyboard of her laptop.

Chloe looked back into the lounge and saw that Destiny had returned, and was staring intently at Chloe as she started to finish the last of the meal she left behind. “No… not even close,” Chloe said, turning back toward the forward windshield.

“What’s up Eupiar?” Jazz asked.

“I just finished installing a translation program onto my laptop,” she said. “If I can gain access to their network I’ll be able to get some info for you guys.”

***

Radiance Deep space transport ship, Rasi orbit, Barnard’s Star system

The multi-year journey from the Morutrin system to Barnard’s Star or Orovlus as it was known to the Radiance races was nearing its final stretch. Passengers aboard the transport began to re-orientate themselves in the zero-g environment of the ship after being revived from cryostasis. The interior of the transport was nothing more than one long winding corridor with cryo tubes lined up one by one along the walls. There were three levels of decks which were quickly filling up with Radiance races as they started to emerge from their pods. All of them looking to build a new home on this frontier world.

Some passengers were with their families as their children gathered around the pods, waiting for the rest of their kin to be revived. Some people traveled alone, wanderers that grew tired of life on Morutrin Prime, but weren’t exiled from the union either. A Javnis mother held her infant child as she peered through one of the nearby windows, looking at the frostbitten planet the transport began to orbit. The cities on the surface of the planet created a web of dots and lines as their lights shone brightly despite the fact it was daytime on that side of the world. Barnard’s Star was anything but bright.

The cryo tube that held Gab Eicelea slid open, her yellow Vorcambreum eyes opened as she pushed her four-foot-tall body away from the tubes. She was quite tall for a Vorcambreum woman. She wore a long red and blue coat, black leather work gloves and a red ribbon tied to the back of her dark silver hair.

Floating next to her tube was her hired bodyguard, Za Vynei, a Rabuabin man who had fallen asleep waiting for her to be revived. He had short spiked blonde hair and fair skin. The top he wore was grey, much like her skin, while his leather vest and pants were black. Small orange rings hanging off his large horns drifted aimlessly with his floating body.

“Vynei,” Eicelea said loudly. There was no response. “Vynei.” Still nothing. Eicelea became aggravated. “Vynei!” she shouted as her small feet kicked him in the shin.

That did it.

“I’m awake.” His eyes jerked open and his hands lowered to rub the new-found pain on his leg.

“No, you most certainly were not!” She looked up at his six-foot-tall body. “What kind of bodyguard are you?”

“Sorry, boss.”

Eicelea quickly climbed back into her cryo tube, she had almost forgotten her backpack and data pad. Ironically, she had insisted on keeping them with her as she didn’t trust the transport ship’s crew with taking care of her most important belongings in the cargo hold. Her life’s work existed on that data pad, and the data crystals inside the bag.

They came to a stop at one of the windows along the side of the ship. Eicelea had to kick her body upwards to look out as the bottom edge of the window was just above her head. She was glad she did it however, watching the planet Rasi from orbit was so much more exhilarating than watching it on a holographic projection.

“We’re here at last!” she said with victorious grin.

“Why is it taking so long to dock?” Vynei said, staring at the spaceport in the distance.

“One planet, two spaceports, all of them full of ships arriving and departing.” Just as Eicelea explained that, an announcement played over the intercom instructing all passengers to line up at the airlock. “Let us depart ourselves, our new home awaits us.”

The deep space transport ship docked with the spaceport as the previous ship that was there launched away eventually entering sub light speeds in the expanse beyond. The spaceport was a colossal space station with smaller transports flitting to and from the surface of the planet, a key hub in distributing the population to the surface, stars or nearby planets and moons. A docking clamp shaped almost like a robotic hand extended out from the spaceport, grappling onto the side of the transport where its primary airlock was. Once the connection was secured, the doors leading into the airlock slid open making a soft hissing noise in the process.

The queue to leave the transport was massive as floating passengers patiently waited for the noise to subside and their turn to pass through the exit came. Both Eicelea and Vynei swore when they realized the line up to leave had started to form during their gaze out the windows. As a result, they ended up somewhere near the back.

After a fifteen minute wait the queue shrank enough for them to pass through the airlock and into the spaceport. Bright white lights shone down upon them while gravity forced their once floating bodies onto the floor. The station used five psionics whose sole job was to generate gravity for all sections of the spaceport. Tropical plants from the Aryile home world decorated hallways leading into the central atrium.

The hallway that led Eicelea and Vynei away from the airlock placed them high above the atrium. She looked down through the railings of the balcony and saw scores of people marching to or from the departures or arrivals sections of the spaceport. Many of them tugged their luggage behind them on anti gravity trolleys. Holographic advertisements played, promoting the services merchants in the spaceport or planet side had to offer. The center of the atrium had a small garden with thinly shaped trees rising from the grass. A group of Aryile and Linl children played as their parents watched on from seats nearby.

An elevator took Eicelea and Vynei to the lower levels while an automated message played over the intercom revealing that a travel ship had docked ready to take people to Courelia, the city on the surface they planned to make their new home. As they walked toward the ship across the glistening white floor, Eicelea noticed a series of holographic screens listing travel information for all the long range transports the spaceport was supposed to handle. There were transports scheduled to depart to Morutrin Prime, Lejorania Sanctum, Aervounis. Earth: the human home world as she remembered, was listed as well. Keyword ‘was’ as all transports listed to travel to or from Earth were cancelled. Regardless it was indeed an interesting thing to see. Much had changed in the galaxy since they had entered cryostasis in Morutrin if flights to the human home world were a reality. She would have to read up on history to learn exactly how much had changed in the last thirty years.

The transport they boarded was a civilian version of the transport ships typically used by the Radiance forces. The layout was similar, the only major differences being the removal of cryo tubes in the back and that the transport itself was twice the size. As expected the moment they stepped aboard the transport, their bodies started to float once again. They took a seat in the back, strapping their seat belts on.

Gravity slowly took hold as the transport entered Rasi’s gravitational pull, though it was less than it was on the spaceport, almost forty percent less. The blackness of space remained partly visible through the cockpit’s forward windshield despite crossing the terminator into daytime. The only major source of light was the large arcology in the distance shining its bright lights off the feather like snowflakes falling from the sky.

The transport’s doors swung open as they landed and everyone began their exit into the city side spaceport. There was a lineup of six families waiting to board the transport Eicelea and Vynei exited. Eicelea asked Vynei to claim their belongings from a nearby check in as the contents of the cargo hold should have been brought down planeside by now. He handed the clerk a small data crystal and upon scanning it, a hologram displayed the IDs of both Vynei and Eicelea. An anti gravity cart with two large boxes was soon presented to him.

“Evidently, they did not design this place with Vorcambreum in mind,” Eicelea said with her head tilted way up at a directory map she couldn’t see. “Vynei,” she shouted. He stepped over with their belongings in tow, picked up the tiny woman, perching her on top of his shoulders. Much better, she thought. “Thank you, now let’s see here,” she read the holographic directory at her new-found height, searching the confusing map for their next destination, “temporary housing is three levels down.”

“Temporary housing? I hate that.”

“As do I, but rent here is rather exorbitant. We will need a roommate to assist in covering the costs and such.” She pointed toward a wide brightly lit corridor. “The elevators are that way.” Vynei was about to place her on the floor when the back of her heel smacked him. She had no intention of walking, not while her body weighed less on this world. “Come now, let us be hasty!”

“Do I really have to—?”

“Yes! As I said this place clearly was not designed for my species, you really think these legs can handle a trip like this? There is much walking to do after we leave the elevator!” He began to walk in the direction as instructed, carrying her and their two cargo boxes. “Consider this practice in case I’m injured during an archaeological dig, it will be you that will be tasked with the duty of carrying me out to safety.”

“What if raiders attack and I’m the one injured?”

“Then it will be quite clear I hired the wrong bodyguard.” She lowered her head, avoiding hitting a low hanging pipe on the ceiling. “Now, less talk, more walk.”

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